Resource scarcity challengesn April 13, 1970, approximately 205,000 miles away from Earth, an oxygen tank exploded. The explosion damaged the Apollo 13 spacecraft, leaving the crew with limited power and water for the rest of their mission. Carbon dioxide in the craft built up. To remove the carbon dioxide, engineers had to figure out how to join cube-shaped lithium hydroxide canisters to cylindrical ones using only what the astronauts had at their disposal. They did and, four days after the explosion, the crew returned safely to Earth.  

The reason why the Apollo 13 mission will forever be known as “the successful failure” is due to the dozens of minds innovating together to find a solution in the face of a disaster and scarce resources. Similarly, carbon dioxide is building in our atmosphere at an unprecedented pace, and climate change is increasing our global resource challenges. We have an opportunity — and imperative — to Re-imagine how we operate to ensure the growth of our businesses and economy no matter what challenges we may face. 

As many of us probably know and have experienced, resource scarcity is at the forefront of our consciousness when we do business. And it’s on our customers’ minds as well. In fact, three-quarters of executives said that resource challenges have caused their revenue to decline last year, according to the Global Resource Challenges Report.

Meeting the demands of global population and resource scarcityBusiness resources span many different areas. They include warehouses, human resources or labor, and natural resources such as farmland and water. Understanding resource trends, and planning around those challenges, is a crucial step in planning for the future. 

Resource shortages are only expected to grow. Demand for food, water and energy is increasing because of growing populations and urbanization. Supplies are also under constant threat of depletion due to climate change and geopolitical risks. Resource scarcities - even short-term ones - pose substantial risks to business operations and supply chains. 

Executives who fail to appreciate the risks of resource scarcity or are too focused on their bottom line to dedicate necessary resources to address them could find themselves less prepared for the future. They may face increasing prices or more frequent shortages of the very resources they’ve built their businesses upon. 

This is not a recipe for long-term business success. Continuous innovation — in the form of materials, processes and business models — is a necessity. Too often, innovation is a reactionary measure once the damage begins to take effect, and so instead of planning to thrive, we’re scrambling to survive. 

“If we do not innovate, the growth of our businesses and economy will suffer as resources continue to be stressed.”

One prime example can be found in the energy sector. In 2008, the oil scarcity drove the price of oil to $147 per barrel, and the resulting energy crisis increased renewable energy investments by 32 percent from 2009 and 2010.  

Today, the renewable energy industry workforce is 10 million strong and growing. Meanwhile, automation, overcapacity, and consolidation have meant fewer fossil-fuel jobs.  There are more than 2 million electric vehicles on the road around the world, which could have helped mitigate the crisis had they been more available a decade ago. 

But what if such investment had come before the crisis? It has long been understood that current oil usage cannot be sustained forever.  The worst effects of oil scarcity may have been partly alleviated by renewable sources. 

Within the consumer packaged goods and food and beverage industries, we face limitations in natural resources as well. Companies are looking at bold solutions to tackle resource scarcity. Amazon has applied for patents for flying, underwater and beehive-like warehouses.  These concepts may seem like science-fiction but are in response to urbanization increasing city traffic and straining nearby warehouse space. While some of these ideas may ultimately prove unfeasible, they reflect Amazon’s total commitment to innovation for sustainability and further cement their status as industry leaders. 

resource scarcity drives investment in innovationSealed Air is also choosing to innovate now to improve our operations and customers to be better prepared for the future. One necessity that can be found in each of our factories has spurred forward thinking innovation: getting rid of waste. We are proactively finding innovative ways to reuse, repurpose or recycle all commonly discarded items. Scraps are turned into items such as construction film. During last year’s historic flooding in South Carolina, this program allowed us to donate truckloads of poly sheeting to construct tents and protect property.

Or take, for example, our recently unveiled renewable foam that was created in collaboration with Braskem and Naturepedic. The bio-based resin is made from ethanol derived from Brazilian sugar cane. Growing sugar cane absorbs carbon dioxide and releases oxygen, so the foam has a negative carbon footprint.  

Innovations like this are taking crucial proactive steps to battling resource scarcity before a full-blown crisis. Business leaders must prepare for scarcity not only by investing in innovation but also in people. At Sealed Air, our industry experts in data analysis, automation and the internet of things help shape the future of the industries that we serve. 

Companies fail when they do not generate or incorporate new technology into their businesses. If we do not innovate, the growth of our businesses and economy will suffer as resources continue to be stressed. With careful planning and constant innovation, we can be well equipped with the tools we will need to face tomorrow’s problems.